Means of Social Media Communication by Tourist Information Centres: Vilnius Tourist Information Centre case study
Vilnius University, Lithunia
The role of social media as the new governing force in shaping the landscape of public image management of organizations and products on the virtual space is undeniable. Tourist Information Centres, being organizations and their advertised destination information being their products, are not an exception. Social media may be applied as a communication platform, which enables opportunities to advertise and engage with the potential consumer, conduct marketing analysis and obtain feedback, build destination image and contribute in other ways to the activity of the organization. However, unavoidably, tourism information centres face challenges. Considering that, article aims to analyse, how tourist information centres can use social media as a communication platform, through analysis of Vilnius Tourist Information Centres social media account content and user engagement.
Keywords: social media, communication, tourism, tourist information centre
Tourism is an ever-expanding and improving industry, according to World Travel and Tourism Council in 2013 tourism sectors "total contribution to the global economy rose to 9.5% of global GDP, not only outpacing the wider economy, but also growing faster than other significant sectors such as financial and business services, transport and manufacturing" (WTTC, 2014). Tourism industry has been revolutionized by Information and Communications Technology (ICT) (Buhalis and Law, 2008), Internet technology being the key contributor. Social media is one of tools enabling tourism sector organizations to maintain their competitiveness and tourist information centres to provide high quality services, this way building a positive image of the destination. Despite the subject of social media in the context of tourism not being a new research area and interest among researchers and practitioners growing constantly, the amount of academic work in this area is still underwhelming, according to Mar Isa and Alizedh (2015, p.176) there are "few researches in the specific field of use of social media by tourism organizations".
The tourist information centres contribute to the building of the destinations image, in this context social media becomes an important communication platform, due to which tourist information centres may increase their exposure, improve their image and increase the quality of the customer service by adequately reacting to customer questions, needs, complaints and criticisms" (Toplu et al., 2014). Additionally, the tourist information centres are able to build networks and improve performance in other ways (Ngai et al., 2015). Social media provides a communication platform that enables simultaneous engagement with several stakeholders and a space for advertising destinations and public relations, which may benefit tourist information centres engaged in destination image building. However, there are still risks involved in adopting this platform for the mentioned activities, despite the positive opportunities and benefits provided by the social media.
To mitigate the risks, one of the main challenges being faced is how the tourist information centres should manage social media communication in order to build and maintain a positive destination image? Article aims to analyse, how tourist information centres can use social media as a communication platform. To begin with, the article will discuss the definition of social media, its functions, impact of social media on tourism sector and application prospects of social media tools in tourism industry, focusing on tourist information centres. Finally the article investigates and discusses Vilnius Tourist